Clean Lake Tip: Dodge the Clogs!

Toilet paper, of all varieties breaks down in our septic and municipal wastewater systems but avoid flushing anything else down the toilet! Photo by Lauren Sopher.

Wastewater treatment and septic systems are designed to handle the four Ps—pee, poop, puke, and (toilet) paper—and nothing else. Flushing other paper products, plastics, disposable diapers, pharmaceuticals, dryer lint, condoms, tampons or applicators, or flotsam and jetsam is a big no-no. Wipes clog pipes, even if they are marketed as “flushable".

What’s the big deal if these items get whooshed down a drain or toilet? The issue is that they don’t dissolve and can mix with fats, oils, and greases (FOGs), creating clogs that are expensive to repair and can contribute to sewage overflows. FOGs can develop into “fatbergs"—a massive amalgamation of FOGs and common household solid waste items. In 2015, a ten-ton ball of grease shut down the London sewer system making it impossible for residents to flush their toilets. (Read more about fatbergs in the Water News from Near and Far section below.)

It’s a myth that in-sink disposals break up FOGs or that they belong in the compost. Even if you dispose of them in liquid form they will coagulate when they cool down and putting them in your compost will attract pests and slow decomposition. What can you do with FOGs instead? Some FOGs can be re-used! Bacon grease is a scrumptious addition to many food recipes and can be turned into candles, soap, bird food and even lip balm if you’re feeling creative. If you don’t have a way to repurpose FOGs they need to be mindfully disposed of. Once the fat, oil, or grease you’re using has cooled down a bit, pour it into a container, give it time to solidify, then discard it in your trash can.

Everything we consume goes somewhere. It is up to us to make sure that we properly dispose of our waste, from wet wipes and dental floss to bandages and FOGs. It’s a team effort to dodge the clogs and keep our waterways clean!